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Learning to Feel

Learning to Feel

We travelled to Europe in August, primarily for a family holiday but there was no way I was travelling that distance and not taking advantage of the opportunity to ride with one of the trainers from the Academic Art of Riding. So, I did some research and quickly settled upon a trainer in the north of Germany. It’s a bit of a risk choosing someone to work with when you know little about them, don’t know anyone who knows them and they’re so far away, but for some reason it just felt right.

“I’ve read the book too” she said, “what I asked you is, what do you feel?”. As soon as she said it, I knew I was in the right place.

 

Two women and a horse leaving a riding arena

 

‘She’ is Celina Harich, and the book she’s speaking of is, of course, Bent Branderup’s ‘The Academic Art of Riding (AAR) – a riding method for the ambitious leisure rider’. The bible of all those interested in … this kind of riding. If I am anything, I am an ambitious leisure rider and ‘feel’ has been my driving force for a very long time, and I was very happy to be there

This story is to be about my time with Celina at her riding school, but I need to briefly detail what exactly ‘this kind of riding’ is. To my mind it’s the approach that is the point of difference. It’s the belief that riding is seen as an art, rather than a sport or a discipline. Put simply, it’s just good riding; nothing new, nothing fancy. In fact it’s old. Very, very old and it honours the masters from a time long gone, but in some arenas of the world their work continues. With ‘this kind of riding’ there is no expensive equipment, no gimmicks, no gadgets and no tricks.

So often we see riders embrace a particular style zealously, and some of these styles have become somewhat of a cult, or a brand. I don’t see that to be the case with the AAR and indeed what appeals to me is that the ‘licensed trainers’ (of which Celina is one) appear to have adopted their own particular style, whilst adhering to the time proven methods. That, and the fact that they see each other as their peers, rather than their competition. Annually they come together to share their knowledge and help each other.

Celina is as passionate about learning as she is about teaching and I suspect, perhaps more so. After many years of attending the Academy it was Bent’s insistence that she share her knowledge. And indeed one of the fundamental ideals of the Knighthood is ‘Enlarging the circle of those who are dedicated to this art’, and on her own website she confesses her duty to pass on knowledge to future generations and to not keep it to herself.

More than once I watched as Celina helped a student who struggled with a technique or a concept. The horse was withdrawn from the lesson and stood with as a quiet observer with the rest of us, while we all waited patiently for them to work through it together. It was surprising how quickly the horse understood, once the rider did and was in a position to make their request properly. When the problem isn’t the horse why involve it. What a refreshing approach!

However what struck me as I watched was the way she worked. She moves with the grace of a dancer and the quiet concentration of someone totally absorbed in the moment. She has obviously mastered the technique of being present and works with resolute determination tempered with an understanding and acceptance. Quiet and thoughtful, but in the words of her intern, ‘she has much fire’.

The questions I’ve had since my return have been pretty much the same from almost everyone and mostly they can be answered pretty simply.

So, what did I learn? Heaps, but if I try to tell you specifically then the meaning would be lost.

I know this answer isn’t going to cut it, so I’ll expand a little. At Celina’s prompting I chose a particular subject I wanted to focus on. That was easy for me. I’ve been dedicated to developing my seat for a long while, having given up my saddle some time back, so my chosen subject was just that, the seat. Therefore, I spent my entire time with her on the lunge.

Now, tell me? What was your first thought when you read that, and why? I’d be really interested to know. You can leave a comment on the FB post or flick me an email if you prefer (please).

Celina encouraged me to use my time in the saddle for discovery. To feel and to experiment whilst she quietly made suggestions and observations then allowed me time to reflect and experiment again.

I’ve heard people disappointed about a lesson they’ve received because they haven’t learnt enough, or if the lesson didn’t address specifically what they wanted. However if we learn something that changes the approach we take to every single horse we encounter from that point forward, (whether it be on the ground or from the saddle), then we have indeed learnt something very valuable.

What I learnt was to keep asking questions but to look more to the horse for the answers. She’s guided me further along my road of self discovery. Her comment often was ‘hhhmmm, interesting’, giving no indication of whether my answer was correct, or incorrect. Because feel isn’t. But sometimes she would say ‘actually, that’s not what I see from the ground. Try this ... (whatever it may be), now what do you feel’. My response would usually be ‘Ah!’.

I think Celina would think she’s done her job well. I hope so, because she’s certainly had an impact. She has changed the approach I take to every single horse I encounter from that point forward.

Here’s just some of the questions that arose, and together we explored the answers:

  • What movement do I feel beneath my seat?
  • Am I with that movement? Am I behind it, in front of it, am I blocking it? If I’m behind it what do I do to get with it?
  • Where am I sitting? Is it the shoulder or the hind leg?
  • What is the rotation of the ribs? Why? Is my influence causing it? Can I influence a change?
  • Is there a stiffness within the horse. Am I the cause? Can I release it? How?

Would I go back? In a heartbeat. Celina’s horses were patient and accommodating. Giving me enough to allow me to learn but withholding enough to insist that I learn.

Celina was generous and caring in her approach both in the arena and outside of it. You’ll find lots more about Celina here: www.celinaharich.com 

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